Mother's Day is Complicated

by Krystin St. George

I remember how excited I used to get for Mother's Day, excited to soak up the love and spoiling. But that was before loss.

My first Mother's Day as an angel mom was extremely difficult. It was still so fresh, I didn't want any part of Mother's Day. I felt like I wanted it to come to a screeching halt on its approach. Enough time hadn't passed after losing Bentley to even come close to my being prepared to face a holiday dedicated to mothers. I still had so much guilt. Like I had failed at the one thing I thought I couldn’t fail at: carrying a living baby to term and birthing that living child. Yes, I had a then five-year-old son wanting to celebrate his mommy, but I remember feeling so unsure of what kind of mother I was; the feeling of failure mixed with grief was almost too much to handle.

Last year was a bit better.  It was easier to handle. I tried to focus on how blessed we are to have our living son. I still treated Mother’s Day as just a day to spend with my husband and son. I deferred to them, choosing to do something they enjoyed.  

This Mother’s Day, we’ve just recently moved to North Carolina.  When my husband asked what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to go to a baseball game.  Our son has never been, and there are a lot of minor league teams around, and it is so family-friendly.  I was thinking he might enjoy it, and baseball has always been my favorite sport.  I knew he wanted to celebrate me, but I don’t care about going out or getting gifts.  The guilt—all the feelings, they are still there.

My mom was on the phone with me the other night, talking about Mother's Day and how she'll be sure to call me. I found myself saying, “It's just a day”.  Beyond my husband and son, anyone else reaching out makes me feel kind of meh. I still want and need the love.  I don't feel like I don't want to celebrate Mother's Day—I sort of want to—but it is not what it used to be because of that little beautiful baby boy whose absence leaves a gaping hole in my heart.

Two years later, and there are still feelings I don’t know what to do with.  I want other moms like me to know this.  Mother’s Day might get easier, but there might always be these strange and unwelcome feelings we don’t know how to manage.  And that’s perfectly okay.  

Good luck.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Krystin

A Memory. A Legacy. A Mother's Love.

De'ondre Millner, beloved son of Lisha Moorman

De'ondre Millner, beloved son of Lisha Moorman

Mothers are always doing.  Constantly at the ready, hard at work, preparing.  Even if their beloved child is lost, you can't tamp down that drive.  And Lisha Moorman is full of drive.

Heartstrings first heard of Lisha and her son, De'ondre, in 2015.  Attending that summer's Circle of Hope event, Lisha made her mark on our hearts by opening hers, and sharing the memory of De'ondre; the son, the brother, the friend.  Every story shared about this young man highlights one specific word: love.  He was and is loved, and shared that love with his family, friends, and classmates. 

And after his untimely death at age 15, De'ondre's love was far from done on this earth.  Lisha sees to that.  And this month, Lisha shared that love with Heartstrings.

An employee of Greensboro's Vanderbilt Mortgage, Lisha recently organized her coworkers for a fundraising drive to benefit Heartstrings.  Armed with De'ondre's story, Heartstrings' mission, and her amazing capacity, Lisha and the team at Vanderbilt raised $1,042 between themselves.  Not at all a small feat, Vanderbilt further supported these efforts by matching the donation with a $1,000 corporate gift. 

To say Heartstrings is appreciative of this gift is insufficient at best.  Lisha has not only donated funds to support so many parents just like herself, but she has also given the gift of her son's love.  We at Heartstrings are honored to be a part of De'ondre's legacy.  Because in our community of support, we rely on our parents, just as the parents rely on us.  And with all these driven parents working together, we will create hope for those who come after us.

"Open Body Open Heart"

Name *
Name
Phone *
Phone
I give permission for Radiance Yoga to contact me via phone or email. *

On May 20th at 1:30pm, local yoga and Reiki instructors and Heartstrings supporters have joined their healing forces and invite you to a special 90-minute session, "Open Body, Open Heart".  Treat yourself or a well-deserving mom to a re-energizing experience at Radiance Yoga. Learn how to use the healing capabilities of Yoga and Reiki on yourself to open up your energy system and allow your body and mind to heal.

100% of the LOVE Donations collected (in lieu of registration fees) will go to benefit Heartstrings programs.  Limit 20 participants. Participants must be comfortable being able to sit on yoga mat for 30 minutes, no yoga experience necessary.  Fill out the form to be put on the registration or waiting list.  You will be contacted as soon as possible.

About the Instructors:
Kishie Wyatt, RYT-500, is a yoga instructor and co-owner of Radiance Yoga in Greensboro.  Kishie’s passion is teaching the ancient practices of yoga, while adding components that help us navigate this modern world.  Yoga can give us the gifts of insight, personal awareness, deep connection, peace and freedom.  She firmly believes that yoga is for everyone.  The only prerequisites arethe willingness to breathe deeply and to be curious about yourself.

Kathy Williams
"I have been a licensed massage therapist for 4 years and have been a Reiki Healing Practitioner for 2 years. I am a nurturer by nature and truly enjoy my work.  My best work however is being a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter and a good friend to my loved ones."

On Your Mark, Get Set.........

     For me, every year the gun goes off in Walmart. Going down the card aisle you see all the pastel colors of Easter. Pictures of bunnies and candy soon start to turn into posters of flowers and the dreaded words "Mother's Day May 14th". 

     POW!! And it starts. Just like any runner, my heart begins to poundNot from adrenaline, but from anxiety. It was Mother's Day 2014 that I knew something was wrong, and so naive to think whatever it was it didn't warrant an emergency room visit. It could wait until Monday when the OB office opened. It's a weight of guilt I carry till this day, because two days later on May 13th my daughter was born and my daughter was gone. She is my third child, the one who will never get to say Happy Mother's Day.

     Mother's Day is no longer a day of appreciation. In my house it is now a mile marker. For me it is marked as the day I should have gone to the hospital. For my other two children it is marked as the day mom starts to be sad. For my husband it is marked as the day he starts to worry, because every year I sprint back & forth spending all energy & money into a garden that never would be had we not lost her. Her garden, where her name and images of butterflies take the place of baby and school pictures. Her garden, where yes, there are flowers for Mother's Day. They're just no longer for mommy.

    Three years later and I still find myself unprepared. Out of breath and dehydrated just trying to keep up with life. I have a grandmother, my own mom, mother-in law, aunts, friends, etc... Do I celebrate them, when I just want to crawl in my safe place and forget the day even exists? I admit it seems unfair not to show appreciation to my own mom, but ask anyone who has lost a child about what is fair, and you're sure to get an ugly look. I thank God for Heartstrings. A place where I can stretch, unload, refuel, and run with a team that knows just how I am feeling. With people who have shifted their grief as they climb each milestone hill. I have learned from them how to turn my grief into a marathon of love. Where I have learned from being with others, how to spend less time crying about what should have been her life and more time on making sure her memory lives.

   We don't celebrate mothers day in my house. We get prepared for the race. Where I get ready to run through the wave of emotions, preparing for her birthday, and loving on all three of my children a little bit more on this and every Sunday.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

As November leaves and ushers in December, our list of things to do gets longer and before we know it we are in the whirlwind of the holidays. Christmas lists, dinner invitations, parties, cookies, and concerts fill our days with what is supposed to be "The most wonderful time of the year". Losing a child changes all that. Decorating the Christmas tree use to be an event to look forward to...now it's a sign of the tornado to come. A rush of emotions ranging from joy to anxiety to sadness are all mixed in with carols and the jingle of the Salvation Army bell.

Mustering up the courage to attend that office party or family dinner with your pregnant cousin is now as difficult as hanging lights from the roof with an unstable ladder...any second you may fall. These feelings are all normal, and as the snow comes and goes you'll not only survive, you'll find a way to dig out of it. New traditions emerge and if this year you put up the tree and next year you don't it's ok. We've all had those times, those memories, and those moments.

December is a time to reflect on those moments, to look back on how far we've come. Perhaps this year you stay in bed, protecting your heart.  Perhaps this year you finally feel strong enough to hang up those stockings.  Perhaps this year, you reach out and help a newly bereaved friend weather the holiday storm.  Give yourself permission to do what feels right.  And on December 31st as the ball drops, we will all look forward to the hope of a fresh start and a fresh year to do something new!

Heartstrings Awarded Grant by The Winston-Salem Foundation

The Winston-Salem Foundation has awarded a $31,083 grant to Heartstrings to expand its Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Program to assist underserved communities, including Hispanic and African American parents.  The grant will also expand the executive director position.

“Providing support to a more diverse mix of parents in need is a recognized service gap,” said Ashley Wall, executive director of Heartstrings. “This grant will enable us to create a pilot program with input from Winston-Salem Hispanic and African American community leaders and parents to ultimately develop an effective and culturally-appropriate pregnancy and infant loss support model.”  

Heartstrings is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization that provides validation, encouragement, and grief-related education to Triad parents who have experienced pregnancy, infant, and child loss through peer-based support groups and one-to-one mentor support. www.HeartstringsSupport.org

The Winston-Salem Foundation is a community foundation that supports charitable programs in the greater Forsyth County area.  Founded in 1919 with a $1,000 gift, it now administers over 1,300 funds and had total custodial assets of $387.4 million at the end of 2015.  In 2015, the Foundation granted $26.6 million to charitable causes, $2.4 million of which was through the Community Grants program.

 

 

Practicing Hope - Spring 2016

Heartstrings parents share their stories.

Heartstrings parents share their stories.

On Friday, April 22, Heartstrings once again hosted Practicing Hope, a conference detailing best practices in caring for parents experiencing fetal and infant loss for medical professionals.  Nurses, counselors, hospital staff, hospice care professionals, chaplains, and health department employees came together to discuss grief reactions, the implications of culture, best practice for supporting parents, and effective self-care strategies.  

Heartstrings staff are pleased to take the opportunity to introduce local practitioners to our programs and methods.  Director of Support Services Cheri Timmons went into detail explaining the Heartstrings Method©, enabling local counselors and professionals to set up appropriate expectations for parents. 

Heartstrings board members and support group facilitators Daniel Hall, MA, LPC, NCC and Dei Angel, LPC, NCC covered in-depth looks at common grief reactions and cultural components that affect mourning.  Participants received 4 continuing education credit hours from Northwest AHEC for their attendance. 

Daniel Hall leads a discussion on common grief reactions.

Daniel Hall leads a discussion on common grief reactions.

The most impactful moment in the conference may have been the parent panel.  Heartstrings parents shared their stories of loss and hope, and invited participants to ask questions.  One medical professional said "the parents were absolutely wonderful and were really icing on the cake for such a good training." 

Heartstrings looks forward to the upcoming Fall 2016 Practicing Hope conference.  If you are interested in learning more about this training, please contact Cheri at 336-335-9931.

Mother’s Day, 1O Years Later

by Mary Best

On May 15, 2006, less than a week after Will was born, my family came together for what I remember as one of the happiest days of my life. My mother-in-law already was staying in our rural South Carolina home, to help my husband and me care of our newborn son. My family drove from Greensboro to celebrate Mother’s Day and meet the newest member of our family.

A beautiful spring day greeted them when they met our miracle son. The odds of my husband and me ever having children had been remote at best. I was 43 in the fall of 2005 when I learned I was pregnant—while my husband was undergoing treatment for a life-threatening condition. For the most part, I had a normal pregnancy, but between my age and my husband’s medical issues, our loved ones had held their collective breath until Will arrived. After 20-some hours of labor, I held all 8 pounds, 2 ounces of his precious little self in my arms, knowing I would never let him go.

On that Mother’s Day, we celebrated Will’s life. We kissed his 10 perfect toes and 10 perfect fingers. He was held, blessed and passed from one set of loving arms to another.

Later that evening, I wrote in his journal about Mother’s Day and his grandmothers, aunts and niece—the blanket of protection they would give, the lessons they would teach and the crap they wouldn’t tolerate. I was tired, and after a few paragraphs I signed off. “That’s enough for today, my son,” I wrote. “We have a lifetime.”

That lifetime was eclipsed four months later in the early morning hours of September 15 when I found his lifeless body in his crib. The team of police and forensic investigators that combed our house found no obvious cause of death. The medical examiner determined it was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Events of that morning still seem surreal, incomprehensible. Just two days earlier, during Will’s four-month check-up, his pediatrician marveled at how smart and healthy Will was. They played together, and Dr. Patel upped his diet to include baby food. I remember sighing with relief, thinking he had made it through those first critical months of life.

Will was a sweet soul with a precious giggle who loved bath time, riding in the car and rocking in his swing. Suddenly, he was gone.

He would have grown up to be a kind man. He would have learned to talk, walk, read, drive, vote, fall in love. He would have stumbled, and I would have encouraged him through difficult, confusing times. In the evenings, we would have talked about his day. He would have taught me to operate the remote control. We would have danced together at his wedding. He would have made me Mother’s Day cards.

One of the most consuming and unexpected consequences of Will's death has been the sheer power of my grief. Its blunt force has no logic or reason—at times, it is punishing and unforgiving. It’s slippery and messy; untangling its tentacles has been exhausting and traumatic. But it’s also become an exercise in perseverance, patience, giving and forgiveness.

The morning after Will’s funeral, I woke up on the floor in front of his crib with a paralyzing sense of despair. I had no idea what to do.

In my grief-crazed state, I decided to learn everything I could about SIDS. My education would be a deviation from the emptiness, and I would be able to prove his death was my fault. It would feel empowering to blame someone—me. Action. Consequence. And whatever that action was, I had convinced myself it had to have been caused by me or occurred on my watch. I contacted leading SIDS researchers, sent them Will’s autopsy report, analyzed scientific data and wrote articles about my findings. But while the knowledge I gained helped me understand the biological and physiological theories behind SIDS, I couldn’t pinpoint the “smoking gun”—except my own mother’s remorse.

Isolation fueled my grief. Being from North Carolina, most of my family and friends lived in Triad, but my husband and I lived some 125 miles away. In the wake of Will’s death, my inclination was to emotionally distance myself in an already lonely environment. Mercifully, friends and family showed tireless support with phone calls, visits, cards and outings. They lifted me when I couldn’t lift myself.

There were, of course, awkward moments and comments that I didn’t know how to handle. The local pharmacist, who had a daughter about Will’s age, no longer spoke to me. One woman told me I should have his body compressed into a diamond that I could wear around my neck. While extreme, her expression of sympathy was sincere. As bizarre as that suggestion seemed, at least she extended what she thought would be words of comfort. For the record, I didn’t follow her advice.

Still, an all-consuming powerlessness shrouded my days. That’s when Heartstrings helped save my life. And I don’t write that lightly. A few days after Will’s death, Tracey Holyfield, the organization’s founder, contacted me. She had learned about Will from my brother’s wife. Tracey talked to and emailed me for years, listening, sharing, consoling and remembering. She and subsequent Heartstrings supporters have provided a safe space for me and other parents to grieve and find a purposeful life after unimaginable loss.

By Tracey’s example, I found the emotional fortitude to connect with others who had suffered similar losses, giving me “been there” help that provided empathy. In turn, I found it healing to hear their stories while, hopefully, offering a compassionate ear.

The most healing way for me to fill the void left by Will’s death was to keep his memory alive. While there have been countless times when losing him has consumed me, knowing that he would be remembered has given me a sense of meaning. I couldn’t stand the thought that the end of Will's life to would be the end of his story.

Closure is a terrible word. There is no such thing, no demarcation of the end of my son’s life and the guilt I always will feel. While relinquishing the intensity of my grief terrifies me, I realize that it hasn’t waned as much as it has shifted. For me, grief has become about keeping his memory alive, even if I couldn’t keep his body alive. I find comfort in honoring the 130 days he lived—to show his picture, to say his name, to make a donation in his memory, and to accept and appreciate the gestures my family and friends have taken to memorialize his life. Remembering is much easier—and more powerful—than forgetting or assigning blame.
 
This Mother’s Day—May 8—my husband and I, supported by family and friends, will celebrate Will’s life on what would have been his 10th birthday. And we will honor all the lives taken away, remembering that the mark they left on those who loved them will endure. Always.

Support, Solace, and a See-Saw

Heartstrings mother Rachel shares her experience leading up to the first birthday of her daughter, Georgia.  She talks about the balance and imbalance of the grieving process, and the support of those around you.  We thank her for her openness and honesty.

I read in an article that there are two dates that are important and so very tough for a grieving parent in the years following the loss of their child.  Their birthday, and the day that they died.

My stomach turned over when I read that.  What if those days are one in the same?  Birth was death, and death was birth for my Georgia.  

When all of my experiences with my child have been reduced to a mere few hours that I held her lifeless body in my arms, I am angered that once again, I don’t even have two anniversaries to remember.  Only one.  

When death and birth commingle, the very meaning of life is flipped on its head, I think.  We just can’t believe that death could come hand-in-hand with birth.  A new beginning, simultaneously, is a tragic end.  It doesn’t make sense. It’s just not right. It jumbles our brain and leaves us frantically asking “why?”.

It scares us to our core.

In the months that I’ve been living (i.e. treading the surface of) a life after the birth/death of my daughter, I’ve been riding on this see-saw of support and fear with other people.  Life, undoubtedly, has returned to normal for most of my friends, family, co-workers, and talking about my loss isn’t on the front burner any longer.  And I understand it.  It just can’t be that way. And who would want it to? It wasn’t their loss.  It wasn’t a life turned into a death inside of their very own body.  It hasn’t changed who they are...rewoven the delicate fibers of their being, like it has mine.

There are those people who I ride the see-saw with, and it’s nice. So nice.  Gently, we push off the ground, alternating in a rhythm of understanding.  I can speak of Georgia and they listen.  They want to listen. I float weightlessly up and down.  My legs don’t get tired because they take half the load off of me.  I cry and remember when my daughter’s birth was also her death, and they lower themselves, in order for me to rise up.  I can ride this see-saw with them easily, and for as long as they’ll let me.

Then there are the ones that quickly, after hopping on with them, I find they are not the ones I want to be on it with.  We aren’t in sync.  My weight feels so much heavier, and we are uneven. They are scared, and I quickly realize it was a mistake to ride it with them.  These people search for things to say to make it easier...usually for them...and for the ride to just end quicker.  I don’t get the satisfaction and the solace that I’d hoped for when I take a ride on the see-saw with them. It always falls short.  “It’s going to be ok.”, they say, just before hopping off.  And I go crashing painfully to the ground. The ride is over.  My feelings are hurt. And I’m sitting in the dirt regretting I ever got on it with them.

And then there are the ones who never even get on…

It takes someone strong and balancing to support a grieving mama.  And brave.  I had no choice but to be in this life, riding this ride.  It’s the people who choose to ride it with me, support me, and allow themselves to feel even just an ounce of my weight that I long to surround myself with.  Facing the truth that birth sometimes means death is tough.  Really, really tough.  None of us want to believe it can happen that way.  It goes against everything we know to be true.  Beginning. And then The End. Alpha. And then Omega.  There’s supposed to be a whole lot of stuff in between.  And when there’s not, it scares the shit out of us.

I am still in awe of the moments when I am feeling the weight of Georgia’s loss heavier than I do at other times, and I’m crying, or folded up into myself and don’t have much to say because my mind is set on her, and people who know my story ask “what’s wrong?” or “are you ok?”.  It’s an innocuous inquiry.  And truly, one of care and concern, I know.  But a part of me feels angry.  I just think “what do you think is wrong?!” in the brattiest and most over-sensitive tone.  What else could or would I be crying or thinking about?  People need to know an immediate cause for this effect.  They don’t want to believe that, going on 11 months out from Georgia’s death, that grief still strikes me so harshly. And so publicly. We are taught, that the tears and mourning come quick after death.  And exit the scene just as quickly.  Only those that know the weight of losing a child understand that our grief, our tears, our mourning are like the tides.  Outwardly and visibly, it comes and goes, but more importantly, it never, never stops.  It’s part of an ocean that is bigger than most people can comprehend.  But somehow, we feel it’s depths when we involuntarily sink into it.  

I am finding out about this “time table for grief” that others seems to have, that I’d heard about early on in mine, and that I didn’t want to believe was true.  Being stuck in this place of constant remembrance, striving to honor a little girl gone too soon, when the world and the people that surround you slowly return to their places of normalcy, has been one of the hardest battles yet in this war. Even still, I would never want to move on from it myself.  Our grief is our connection.  And even if a day comes, that I am the only one left carrying it for Georgia, I will choose it.  

I will sit on that see-saw of support and fear, and endure the rough rides, in hopes of the gentler ones. The ones where the person on the other end isn’t afraid of the fact that a birthday can also be a deathday.  That a beginning can become an end, way too soon.  And that the search for solace is the single most important mission for this empty and heartbroken mama.

3 Realistic New Years Resolutions

by Annie Vorys, Heartstrings Director of Advancement

One of the most laughable things in my life is always the ubiquitous resolution of January 1.  Everyone's promising themselves such wonderful things on that first day of the year, and two weeks later will be hard-pressed to remember what those were.  But so many of us go through the motions. 

However, after the loss of a child, the only resolution you can make for a while is "get up," "breathe," "survive."  And I'm here with almost zero authority to tell you--those are plenty!  While the rest of the world is signing up for gym memberships they'll use twice, we've got a success rate of 100% on our survival resolution.  That's nothing to sneeze at. 

Of course, the best way to stick to those annual promises is to buddy up.  Find other people in your boat, and agree to survive together.  That's what Heartstrings is.  A community of support for those days when the last thing you want to do is get out of bed.  And whether you're ready to leave the pillow or not, we're here for you, to help make those small, realistic resolutions that will bring you one step closer to your new normal. 

1.) Call us.  Have you been holding back from calling Heartstrings?  It might seem intimidating.  But when you call Heartstrings, one of two things will happen.  First, you'll get to talk to Cheri.  Cheri, our Director of Support Services, is one of the kindest people alive.  A licensed clinical social worker, Cheri will talk to you, learn about your story, and help you decide on the next step for you personally.  The other thing that might happen?  You'll get Cheri's voicemail.  She'll call you back as soon as she can and still give you that gentle, personal attention.  You're not calling a big, faceless organization.  You're calling Cheri.  And that's a realistic resolution.  336-335-9931.

rasing hope (7 of 70).jpg

2.) Sign up for a program.  After that phone call with Cheri, you might have decided it's time for another step.  Maybe you've had that phone call and just keep saying "I'm not ready."  Promise yourself that this year, you're going to take that step.  You're going to try.  Maybe you want peer support through the Connections program.  Maybe a support group is right for you.  Or maybe you need some one-to-one support before you start a Heartstrings program.  Whatever support you need, your buddy system is here.  Take that step.

The walk, walk 2 (28 of 49).jpg

3.) Keep coming back.  No matter if you're days out or decades from your loss, the grief is still there.  There will still be stay-in-bed days.  But there are still opportunities for you to step back into our community.  Maybe you haven't been to one of our events in years.  Put Circle of Hope or the Walk on your calendar now.  Giving back can also be extremely healing.  Become a Support parent, sign up to volunteer, perhaps even write out your feelings in a newsletter article.  However it works for you, come on back.  We need each other, always.

New Years Resolutions can feel like silly things.  But they can also be the perfect excuse to take a step you've been wanting.  And with an entire community of parents here to support you, maybe 2016 is the perfect time for you to resolve to find healing and hope.  Resolve to be part of the Heartstrings family this year.

Happy --and hopeful-- New Year!

- Annie

 

Practicing Hope Conference

On November 13, 2015 Heartstrings partnered with Guilford County hospitals and Ob/Gyn practices to address a well-known problem among Heartstrings families: lack of sufficient, compassionate care before, during and after the loss of a baby.
The painful details of losing a baby are vividly retained by parents for years, often more so than the birth of a healthy baby, and the traumatic experience ultimately encompasses much more than the actual loss.  Beginning with the first indication that a pregnancy is at risk and continuing through subsequent medical visits, there are multiple opportunities for compassionate care.  Physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, midwives, genetic counselors, sonographers, and administrative staff all have the opportunity to positively or negatively impact a patient’s experience.  Through programs like Practicing Hope: Best Practices in Caring for Parents Experiencing Fetal and Infant Loss, Heartstrings is working with the medical community to improve the parents’ experience.  For medical practices and hospitals, this is more than about compassion, it is about retention.  Numerous Heartstrings parents have made the choice to switch to a different Ob/Gyn practice because of inadequate bereavement support received during and after their loss.
At the half-day conference held in Millis Regional Health Education Center in High Point, participants learned about the range of grief reactions that bereaved parents experience, cultural and religious influences that impact response to loss, unique care plans for patients, and powerful protocol adjustments across all departments.  A panel of Heartstrings parents provided firsthand feedback about opportunities for improved support.  Northwest AHEC provided 4.0 hours in continuing education credits. Practicing Hope endorsements included:
“One of the best, if not THE best, continuing education class I have attended.”   “I learned so much both to increase sensitivity but also in clear suggestions to implement.” “the support starts with the front desk staff and continues on every level.  Educating ALL of us is vital!”
Heartstrings will offer Practicing Hope annually to ensure training is available on a regular basis to address staff turnover at Ob/Gyn practices and hospitals.  Heartstrings also provides Consultation and Facilitated Training for individual practices to develop and implement leading best practices in bereavement support, thus providing consistent, high-quality care to patients.
For information, visit www.heartstringssupport.org or call 336.335.9931

The 40+ dedicated professionals who attended Practicing Hope in November 2015 represent the following organizations/departments:
High Point Regional - UNC Health Care, departments represented: Behavioral Health, Women's Services, Childbirth Suite, Nursery, Spiritual Care, Surgery Center, Emergency Room, Imaging Department, Administration UNC Regional Physicians Ob/Gyn - High Point
Pinewest Ob/Gyn - High Point
Guilford County DHHS - Department of Public Health - Greensboro
Cone Health - Women's Hospital - GreensboroCone Health - Encompass Women's Care Ob/Gyn - Burlington
Cumberland County Health Department - Fayetteville


Walk for Remembrance & Hope 2015 Official Poem

“What’s Left” is a poem by Heartstrings father Chris Ward, commissioned in recognition of the 11th Anniversary of the Walk for Remembrance & Hope.  We thank Chris for sharing his journey in this beautiful piece of art.

 

 

What's Left
-by Chris Ward

The alarm clock crackles from across the house.
My pulse jumps to the beat of its blaring.

The snooze button. Respite? Not quite.

Everything is marked in time. I don't
need to be reminded what today is.
Thirty-three days since I sat in this chair and
watched her read stories from the rocker
feeling for kicks and singing.
Thirty-two days since we drove to the hospital
without our bags because there was no time.
And twenty-nine days since –

Crackle. Snooze again. Bless her.

This morning I took the flower box out of the window
and set it on the rail of the crib. I missed the first
frost, but one chrysanthemum still stands in defiance
of the cold and continues its vigil despite my neglect.
The yellow petals blend easily into the warm pastel wall
as if part of a mural
where the sheep hanging from the mobile graze
lazily in the fields before taking a rest.

Thirty-two days and this room is exactly how I remember it.
Inviting. Organized. Ready for the day that didn't come.
Her hand is on my shoulder.
Waiting for daybreak, we observe what's left before us
While sheep sleep soundly in the meadow.

It's warmer here. There's love in these walls. Maybe
we could paint some flowers, or a garden, or a rainbow.
I don't know – there is time for that in the days ahead.
Quietly we look outside and watch as
snow feathered clouds form on the horizon.

I mark my time. Thirty-three days.

 

 

Heartstrings Walk 2015 Photos

Heartstrings is honored to have had two excellent photographers capturing the special moments of the 2015 Walk for Remembrance & Hope.  Nicole Huffman of Nicole Huffman Photography managed most of the candid shots, while Ernest Roberts of Roberts Fine Photography took over the Whole Family Portraits.  Both of these photographers are strong supporters of Heartstrings, volunteering their time and efforts in honor of Nicole's nephew, Carpenter, and Ernest's grandson, Nicholas. 

Editing on the hundreds of photos is now complete and we are very happy to share these images with you.  Below are links to Nicole's images, which she is generously hosting online for our families to download for free.  You will have to create a log-in, but there is no charge to download any and all of the images.  We continue to offer the Whole Family Portraits confidentially to encourage families to participate openly.  As such, Ernest has mailed the Whole Family Portraits directly to Heartstrings, and they will be individually emailed to the family or team leader.  You will be receiving your images this week.  If you have any troubles, or do not receive your image by the end of the week, please first check your Spam folder, and contact Annie at anniev@heartstringssupport.org if necessary.  Hope you enjoy these photos as much as we do! 

Nicole Huffman Photography Gallery #1  -  Gallery #2   -   Gallery #3   -   Gallery #4

Path to Hope 2015

On September 13, Heartstrings' Walk Committee hosted Path to Hope 2015 in downtown Greensboro. Parents, family and friends came together to decorate a section of the Greenway with painted rocks featuring our babies' names.  

The day started with volunteers apprehensively unloading rocks and paints, wondering if anyone would attend.  It didn't take more than a few minutes for Heartstrings families to show up.  Slowly, more and more arrived until suddenly dozens of families were gathered.  We laughed and cried together as we decorated the path with reminders of our children gone too soon.  It was a simple idea that many people used as a first step into Heartstrings, never having attended an event or support group before.  The rocks sat along the path for over a week, along with a sign inviting others to remember our children, and possibly recognize their own at the upcoming Walk

Heartstrings would like to thank the Walk Committee and all who showed up to share in this event.  We can't wait for you all to pick up your rocks this weekend!

2014 Walk for Remembrance & Hope Official Poem

For the past two years, Heartstrings' Walk Committee has reached out to a parent in our community, asking them to write an official poem for the Walk.  This year, Heartstrings Dad Chris Ward will present a poem at the 11th Annual Walk for Remembrance & Hope.  Last year, Katherine Hill-Oppel honored us with her original work, “And I Replied”.  She beautifully and tragically captures an experience all loss parents will know at some point. 

And I replied.
-by Katherine Hill-Oppel

It was a simple question.
I had heard it before.
But today, it meant something different.
“How many children do you have?” she had asked.
How to reply?
Such a simple question.
But it turned my heart inside out.
No simple answers.
Years of medical visits, shots, medicines, ultrasounds,
ER visits on weekends, late night doctor calls,
Blood tests, xrays, this test. that test.
Doctors, PAs, specialists, technicians, receptionists, nurses
Compassionate voices with good news and bad news.
Worse news.
The worst news.
Having to share the worst news.
Feeling your dreams evaporate, holding the hands of those who cannot understand.
Walking alone, truly alone on a path you cannot comprehend.
Pain and anger, loss and regret, life and nightmares
It all feels the same.
No words can help, no one knows what to say.
The world moves on.
While you are stuck in that place.
And become that person.
Do I share my grief with this person?
The discomfort I feel, the uneasiness she will feel.
Maybe she knows.
Maybe she doesn’t but worse
Will pretend to understand.
Pearls before swine?
Leading an authentic life?
When is it safe to share?
Why does it feel like a denial of a life?
I fight so hard to have their name said and remembered.
Still, only I can protect that memory
And hold it close, giving it the reverence deserved.
I loved my child.
I love my child.
And the question remains, as she patiently waits
“So, how many children do you have.”
And I replied.

 

 

11th Annual Walk Team Fundraising!

Heartstrings' tag line is "A Community of Support for Grieving Parents."  And we mean it.  When you join a Heartstrings support group, or find a Connections match, or even just come to one of our events, you immediately become a part of something over ten years in the making.  This community is a safe place of support, encouragement, and hope that we all benefit from and contribute to. 

Illustrating that spirit is the Walk for Remembrance & Hope fundraising competition.  Families create teams in their child's honor to raise donations in a friendly competition.  Those donations directly benefit future Heartstrings participants. 

To show our appreciation for your efforts, the Walk Committee has secured prizes for our top teams.  Donated by people who believe in Heartstrings, the team prizes are very exciting this year!

Personalized Print - Top Three Teams Prize

The top three fundraising teams will each receive a personalized print of the e.e. cummings poem, "I Carry Your Heart"!  Created by local artist Suzanne Cabrera of An Open Sketchbook, this gorgeous print could feature your child's name and birthdate!  (Check out Suzanne's website here.)

Wine & Design - First Place Team Prize

Wine & Design Greensboro has donated an exciting night out for two!  From their website: "At our wine and paint parties, your canvas, paints, paintbrushes and corkscrew will be waiting as local Greensboro artists guide you step-by-step to ensure you walk away with your very own unique masterpiece."  First place team winners will receive a gift certificate to use at their leisure at the Greensboro location.

Handmade Wings - Second Place Team Prize

Heartstrings dad and Walk volunteer Mike Vorys hand-makes wooden angel wings in honor of his son, Carpenter. Made from reclaimed wood and distressed to look aged, the winning pair will be custom made for the second-place team. 

All teams raising more than $50 will be featured throughout 2015 on the Friends of Heartstrings webpage. 

HOW TO DONATE:

To register a team, first register for the Walk, then you will be prompted to start a fundraising page.  FirstGiving will then walk you through the process of setting up your own, personalized page.  You can add video, pictures, and a message to your friends and family.  Set up your page, then share across your social network! To donate to an existing team, find your team on this page, click on the team name to be taken to their fundraising page, then click "Donate"!  Team Fundraising Winners will be based on highest totals as of 5pm October 9, 2015.

If you have any questions about team fundraising for the Walk for Remembrance & Hope, email Annie at anniev@heartstringssupport.org.

Due to questions about "Teams" vs "Pages", we've developed an infographic with some of the major points:

One Mom's Writing Journey to Healing - and a giveaway!

Heartstrings staffer Annie Vorys stumbled upon Kate Polley's Facebook page a few months ago and immediately fell in love with the story of Sam Polley.  In sweet, beautiful books, Kate shares the story of her son's too-short life.  Annie reached out, asking to share The Story of Sam Polley at Heartstrings Circle of Hope event.  Kate generously agreed, and took it one step further, to share with us her story in her own words: 
Kate, Finn, and youngest son, Jude.

Kate, Finn, and youngest son, Jude.

Until the moment of Sam’s death, I had led a ‘sheltered’, even enviable life.

I had grown up in a loving family, travelled the world, got married and brought two beautiful daughters into the world. Sure, life had thrown a few minor curveballs along the way, but on the whole it had been a rather seamless ride.

Even when the fetal specialist termed my twin pregnancy high risk (due to a shared placenta, common in identical twins), I never allowed the notion that something might go wrong to permeate my conscience. Bad things didn’t happen to me. I truly believed my boys would be born healthy, without complication, completing the picture perfect life I had created.

Sometimes now I look back and marvel at my past innocence, at the somewhat naive notion of life I enjoyed for almost 35 years. If only my inexperienced self, had known what I know now – that baby loss does not discriminate, that it can happen to anyone.

This is the truth I found myself living that dreadful Sunday morning, holding my lifeless baby boy, Sam, whilst his tiny twin brother, Finn lay alone in the NICU. The days which followed were a blur. I went home without my babies - no longer a proud mother expecting twins, but shrouded with a new and unwelcome identity - a bereaved parent, juggling the rawness of death with a premature baby, as well as two older children at home to care for. Finally, after a long and exhausting month, our darling Finn came home. It was a bittersweet moment.

Fifteen months after Sam and Finn were born; I sat down to record on paper, the thoughts which I had been rehearsing in my head for so long. Before I knew it, I had my boys’ story, right in front of me. Documenting Sam’s short, yet precious life in a story for Finn was a hugely cathartic experience for me. It made his existence ‘real’ and helped ease my very broken heart.

I had the story illustrated and chose to print a few copies, for each of my children and close family, which I placed as a surprise gift under the Christmas tree. A few months later, I posted an electronic version of the book on a private online twin loss forum I belonged to.  I did so in the hope of providing comfort to other grieving families, who had provided me with so much understanding and support. The response was overwhelming.

When Sam died, I remember feeling so utterly alone - like I was the only person in the world that this could possibly have happened to. My connection with other baby loss parents from all over the world, made me realise, that this wasn’t true - that there were families in every corner of the globe trying to wade through the same murky waters of grief.

I reprinted a small quantity of my book and posted it to a few families with whom I have made a special connection. Each time I parted with a copy, my heart felt a tiny bit more at peace. By sharing my twin’s story and providing some comfort to bereaved families, Sam was making his imprint on the world. His life was both real and purposeful.

From there, the demand for the book spread and the requests for a non-twin specific version of the book, personalised with a family’s own child’s name was overwhelming.  Resources for bereaved families like us are so limited. I remember in those early days, trawling the internet desperately looking for books to read, in fact anything I could get my hands on that would make me feel less alone.

Together with the encouragement and support from my UK based publishing company, Oodlebooks, my dream of providing a resource to all bereaved families, irrespective of their circumstances, was realised.

The personalised version of the book is now being published and distributed to families all over the world. It is my hope that every family whom receives a copy, will be provided with a tiny bit of comfort and a glimmer of hope.

I believe that Sam exists all around me – both within my heart and in the beauty of the world which surrounds us. I hope you feel the same way about your baby too.

ABOUT KATE POLLEY:

Kate (39) lives in Cape Town, South Africa, together with her husband, Peter and their four living children – Hannah (13), Erin (11), Finn (4) and Jude (3). She balances motherhood with her passion - sharing Sam’s story and providing hope for bereaved families. You can connect with Kate via the Sam and Finn Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/samandfinn and order any of the book versions from www.personalisedchildlossbook.com

If you would like view the books online or order a copy, please visit www.personalisedchildlossbook.com

Kate's publisher, Oodlebooks, has overwhelmed Heartstrings with a generous offer to give away one of Kate's beautiful books.  To enter Oodlebooks' Heartstrings giveaway and have a chance at winning your own personalized child loss book, follow the Rafflecopter instructions below!  You'll sign in, then complete one, two, or three tasks.  More tasks means more chances to win!

Celebrating Father's Day After Loss

by Stephen Linkous, Heartstrings Dad

Stephen and wife Michelle watch their son James in the NICU.

Stephen and wife Michelle watch their son James in the NICU.

Father’s Day: June 21, 2015.  A day that I am not eagerly anticipating.  For myself and many other ‘Angel Dads’ it is a day that we’d rather pretend did not exist.  I was doing my best to sweep the whole thing under the rug, when I was asked to write this article.  Though I was quick to accept this challenge because of the hope that I may be able to offer to others, I soon realized that I must reckon with Father’s Day for myself.  No more pretending Father’s Day doesn’t exist.

Here’s a little of my story:  My second son, James, was born on June 6, 2013 at 24 weeks.  Even though the odds were stacked against his survival, I never let the possibility that he may not make it go through my mind.  That was unacceptable.  However, on June 8th, after 51 hours of life, James passed from this life to the next.

Father’s Day that year came so soon after James’ death that my family and I actually did just pretend it didn’t happen.  It wasn’t a conscious decision but we were buried in the fog of grief.  Father’s Day 2014, I have to admit, is a blur.  My wife bought me dog tags bearing all my children’s names, which I wear proudly every day.  But looking back to that day, I was only present in body.  My mind was working too hard to block out the pain of loss to really show up.

I guess I thought this year would be similar, but not anymore.  I have realized that the prompt to write this article came at just the right time.  True, one of my children is not physically present to celebrate with me, but James will, on Father’s Day and every day, be in my heart.  I am his father. He is my son.  I love him.

Though the holiday is meant to celebrate me, I have decided to celebrate James - daddy’s little buddy.  First, I am writing this article in his memory, in hopes that it will help another father through his own personal fog.  Consider writing yourself - write a letter to your child, tell your story.  Share it with someone else or keep it to yourself, but consider writing this Father’s Day.

Second, my family and I planted some yellow roses and a hydrangea in memory of our angel.  Tending to them - watering, pruning, mulching, fertilizing - makes me feel that I am demonstrating my care and love for James.  

Lastly, on Father’s Day, I plan to get away for a little while, and do 51 repetitions each of push-ups, sit-ups, squats, jumping jacks, and run 2 miles.  That’s one repetition for every hour of James’ life and a mile marking each day.  I will set aside time to celebrate a life gone too soon.  I will dedicate this portion of my day to James, remembering every second that I am his father and he is my son.

What NOT to say to a bereaved dad:

by Chris Ward

Nothing stops a conversation like bringing up your lost children.

Whether in the workplace or just passing someone by while out and about, there are certain topics that are supposed to be safe to bring up in small talk. You know the drill – one person says something innocent, and there is common, in passing reply you are supposed to give. “How are you doing today?” Fine. “Isn't it a nice day today?” Oh yes. “Aww, your baby is cute! Does he have any brothers or sisters?”

As a father who has lost two children and has two more, I have brought my fair share of conversations to a screeching halt by bringing up all four of my children in everyday conversation. And I have seen many eyes glaze over as an innocent chat turns into a horrible exercise of simple arithmetic. It takes a lot for someone to open up about the loss of a child and leaves him or her in a very vulnerable position. What is the safe response?

I'll be honest, there is no perfect answer to how to address the loss of someone's children because everyone handles loss differently. But like many things in life, there are plenty of responses that can make the conversation go much worse. Below are a few responses that I have had thrown my way that you should avoid saying to a bereaved father – even years after the fact.


"I Know How You Feel..."

One of the worst things that can possibly happen to someone is losing a child. As bad as you might have felt losing a loved one, whether it was a dog or a grandparent or a close friend, not all losses are the same and everyone handles them differently. In this sense, grief is not just grief. And even if you decide to open up yourself and share your child loss story, saying you “know” how someone feels is the wrong approach. Understand. Sure. But knowing how someone feels can also be taken as a dismissal of their feelings or a request to stop sharing – after all, what needs to be shared when we know what is going to be said?

"Everything Happens for a Reason / God has a Plan"

Without getting into a religious entanglement regarding the wide variety of beliefs people carry, these statements also serve to shut down conversation instead of opening the door. Horrible things happen to otherwise good people everyday – and losing a child is about as horrible as it can get. Both of these statements justify the child loss. For a bereaved parent, these words can twist the knife and bring more sorrow despite the speaker's good intentions.

"It's Okay, You Can Have Another One"

This statement is very commonly said, especially to people who lost because of a miscarriage. I'll admit I have made the mistake of saying the same thing when I was younger and stupider. So why is it a mistake? First, there are enough people who have had to struggle with years of fertility treatments to even get pregnant one time. For some that one pregnancy might be the only one. But even when speaking to someone with fertility problems (how did we get to this point when we were just having small talk again?), there is a lot of pressure put on by society to churn out a replacement child A.S.A.P. Especially if the pregnancy was public knowledge. The whispers of “when are you having another” grow louder and louder as time goes on. Meanwhile, a grieving parent may still be somewhere in between honoring the lost child and accepting the reality that no one has ever slept in the crib in the still empty nursery. Don't add to those whispers. Don't pile on the pain.

"Tell me about Your Other, Normal Children"

Numerous child losses happen due to genetic defects or congenital conditions that could not be avoided or taken into account before the loss occurred. Having had two losses that fit the above description, I have come to experience that many people are very uncomfortable talking about children with special needs or ones that might not otherwise be “perfect.” The problem word in the above statement is, “normal.” I promise you, things do not feel normal after you lose a child. The sun rising, people going to work, and celebrity gossip and the radio were all completely foreign, disconnected concepts while I was in the worst throws of my grief. It may seem obvious while sitting here reading this to not throw loaded words like “normal” at someone who lost a child for medical reasons, but you would be surprised what comes out of people's mouths when the topic comes up. In this instance, dismissing the lost child and trying to pivot the conversation is the wrong approach.

Nothing

So here's the hard part. Someone felt safe enough to share with you that they had children but those children, for whatever reason and however young. As much as you might want to turn and run, please don't. There is a massive culture of silence about child loss. I've had plenty of people say they were surprised that I would even talk about the subject because I'm a man. I promise you, being a man has nothing to do with the love I have for all of my children, whether they are here or waiting for me somewhere else. So yes, I will bring them up in everyday conversation. And yes, I know that the subject makes people uncomfortable precisely because child loss is something people are not supposed to talk about. But that is exactly why saying nothing is one of the worst responses you can give. All I have left of two of my children are memories and mementos. If there is no room in society to bring up all of my children, what will I tell my two remaining children when they ask about their siblings? I want to be able to share their love freely. It's not always easy, but it sure is better then casting it away never to be felt again.